Born in Russia, Mark Rothko (1903-1970) emigrated to Portland, Oregon with his family when he was 10 years old. After attending Yale University, Rothko moved to New York and became a pre-eminent mid-century artist whose philosophy and style played a key role in the movement towards abstract forms of art. This extensive exhibition is the first major retrospective of his work in Portland. It traces Rothkos artistic development from the late 1920s until shortly before his death.
Rothkos aesthetic interests went through many incarnations. His early figurative work was influenced by his studies with Max Weber at the Art Students League of New York. Weber encouraged him to work in a style reminiscent of Cézanne. In the 1930s, Rothko painted primarily urban interiors and street scenes with attenuated figures, where simplified form, flattened space and exploration of colour were foremost.
His first solo show was hosted by the Portland Art Museum in 1933-34. Moving towards symbolic, abstract and surreal imagery, Rothkos paintings took on mythological or spiritual undertones during the WWII era. By the mid-1940s, biomorphic forms and luminous spaces were predominant and can be seen as predecessors to his later well-known style of non-objective compositions.
Broadly simplified pictorial spaces defined Rothkos mature signature style. His most exemplary paintings are characterized by floating fields of colour and soft applications of paint that create varying atmospheric moods among large, experiential canvases. The transcendent content and philosophical underpinnings of Rothkos artworks significantly contributed to subsequent developments in non-representational contemporary art.